Suit accuses boarding school of turning ‘blind eye’ to sexual abuse

7:26 p.m Friday, June 30, 2017 Local
Wilcox Hall on the Darlington School’s campus in Rome, where teacher Roger Stifflemire is accused of molesting students in the 1970s and 1980s. BOB ANDRES/BANDRES@AJC.COM

A group of former students from the Darlington School, a private boarding school in northwest Georgia, filed a lawsuit late Friday claiming a teacher sexually abused them for years and that administrators did nothing in response.

“Darlington turned a blind eye to the pain and suffering of its students,” according to the lawsuit, filed in Floyd Superior Court in Rome, where the school was founded in 1905.

The abuse allegations are the subject of an investigation published this week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Seven former students told the newspaper that teacher Roger Stifflemire, who worked at Darlington from 1974 to 1994, sexually abused or propositioned them during the 1970s and 1980s.

Stifflemire did not respond to numerous requests for an interview. The school said it hired an Atlanta law firm to investigate the allegations.

Nine former students filed the lawsuit, along with the representative of the estate of another, Charles Mark Day, who killed himself last year. In his suicide note, the suit says, Day cited decades-old abuse by Stifflemire and another man.

The other man, Fred Marquette, ran a water-ski club on Lake Jordan in Alabama. The suit accuses him of also molesting at least one Darlington student who accompanied Stifflemire on overnight trips to Marquette’s lake house. In a recent interview with the AJC, Marquette said he asked Stifflemire not to return after discovering he was having “affairs” with some of the boys. Marquette, now 97 and a registered sex offender in Alabama, said he couldn’t remember whether he had also abused the boys but didn’t think so.

Several of the men who filed the suit said they reported their abuse to various school officials. One said that after Stifflemire molested him on a Boy Scouts camping trip in the eighth grade, he told other students. For telling about the abuse, the lawsuit alleges, a school administrator picked up the student and threw him across a courtyard.

The suit also accuses a former student who allegedly molested at least two boys, one age 6.

Lawyers for the former students filed the lawsuit ahead of a deadline created by a 2015 state law that temporarily extended the statute of limitations for cases involving childhood sexual abuse. The close of business Friday ended the extension.

The suit was filed by attorneys Paul Mones of Los Angeles and Darren Penn of Atlanta.

Darlington, the suit says, presented itself as a “safe and morally upright school,” but took no steps to investigate or stop sexual abuse.

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